Why did Lavrov visit Ahmadinejad?


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Goncharov)

Obviously, Moscow is trying to persuade Iran to adjust its nuclear policy in line with the demands of Iran's two main opponents, the U.S. and the EU: renounce uranium enrichment or face sanctions.

Russia opposes unilateral sanctions against Teheran and is still advocating a collective solution to the problem, said the Russian Foreign Minister after meeting the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The otherwise standard sentence has one important detail. Moscow, unlike Teheran, does not deny the existence of the Iranian nuclear problem and urges the need to solve it. True, it makes no difference whatsoever to the collectively developed scenario. The scenario, to which Russia has signed on, would toughen UN Security Council's sanctions against Iran if it refuses to stop uranium enrichment.

The most likely aim of Sergei Lavrov's flying visit to Teheran was to bring home to Ahmadinejad the simple truth that if Iran fails to comply with the Security Council demand to stop uranium enrichment by the end of November, Moscow will have no grounds for protecting it. That sanctions (in the event of non-compliance with the UN demand) would become inevitable was recently stressed by the European Union's Foreign Policy and Security Chief Xavier Solana. Solana, along with IAEA head Muhammed el-Baradei, are to prepare a report on the Iranian nuclear program by November 15. Judging from his remarks, Solana is in a very resolute mood.

Lavrov's visit to Iran was a departure from standard practice. It had not been planned. A force majeure move had to have weighty reasons. Perhaps it was prompted by another round of unilateral U.S. actions against Iran. The specific targets were elite units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and its special Qods Force as well as three Iranian state banks and their foreign branches. One of these was the Moscow branch of Bank Melli which handles the payments for Russian military hardware supplied to Iran (29 Tor-M1 anti-aircraft missiles worth a total of $700 million).

There may be some more intriguing motives.

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried recently said that the U.S. would certainly come to certain conclusions regarding the deployment of the missile defense elements in Europe if Iran stopped all uranium enrichment work and began cooperating with the international community. Needless to say, it was a deal the White House proposed to the Kremlin. The tempting proposal was made almost simultaneously with Putin's visit to Teheran.

It is believed in the White House that Moscow - especially after that visit - is in a position to influence some aspects of Iran's foreign policy. So, why not ask it to persuade the Ayatollahs to renounce uranium enrichment and change their tone in dealing with the West?

Lastly, The International Herald Tribune has reported, citing American diplomatic sources, that the U.S. was ready to offer Moscow concessions on the CFE Treaty in exchange for a softening of its stance on Kosovo and a toughening of its stance on Iran.

Most likely the prospect of multiple concessions (on missile defense and CFE) prompted Moscow to try to persuade Teheran to announce a moratorium on all uranium enrichment. But what can Russia offer in exchange? Teheran is unlikely to be moved by the mere readiness of Washington to sit down at the negotiating table or even resume direct bilateral contacts.

The more likely explanation lies elsewhere. Teheran has long wanted to position itself as Russia's "strategic ally". So, there is no reason why Moscow should not make use of partnership relations. It could well act as a guarantor of the peaceful character of the Iranian nuclear program in exchange for the U.S. renunciation of military actions. Russia, of course, has something to offer Iran. And judging from the reception accorded in the Iranian capital to Sergei Lavrov, Teheran finds these proposals interesting.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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